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Vice-Chancellor’s Address

Delivered by Professor Sir Robert Burgess at the degree ceremonies of July 2010

As Vice-Chancellor, I am delighted to welcome you all to this degree congregation. It is a celebration for all those who graduate today. We celebrate your many achievements that culminate in the award of a degree from a major international research and teaching-led university.

While you have been with us the University has developed and changed. We are now a community of 23,000 students and 3,800 staff with a turnover of £254 million – a sum that has doubled over the last ten years. We are therefore a big business with higher education at its heart.

This academic year we have been proud of our achievements:

• gaining The Times Higher Education’s Award for Outstanding Student Support;

• becoming a very popular university for undergraduate places;

• increasing our annual research income by 8.4%

• opening our 9th International Sculpture Show in our Botanic Gardens that I encourage you to visit.

In the League Tables, Leicester is in 12th place in the Guardian Good University Guide and 15th in the Times Good University Guide. Last year The Times placed us in the highest position and I concluded it was the most reliable. This year, we have carefully checked the data and feel sure that the Guardian is now the most reliable and comprehensive guide to English higher education!

In terms of our Estate:

• we have converted some buildings on University Road into a magnificent new home for Museum Studies;

• we have recently commenced work on additional postgraduate accommodation at Nixon Court;

• we are about to complete a £16.5m refurbishment and transformation of the Percy Gee Students' Union Building in time for the start of the next academic year; and, of course we

• have many plans for further capital development over the coming years.

But among all this success, I know that a major concern for many graduates and their parents is the global economic crisis and its impact upon graduate employment opportunities. The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services suggests that messages currently in the media are very confusing. In a recent High Fliers Survey it was found that Britain’s top graduate employers have increased their recruitment by 17.8% and whilst competition for jobs is tough there are more like 45 applicants for each job rather than the 70 recently reported by the press. Our Careers Service has assured me that there are graduate opportunities still available for talented graduates just like you. In fact, a national survey of graduate employers in June reported 54% of businesses still have vacancies. Our Careers Service would suggest looking at the University’s “Jobs On-Line” graduate vacancies service (where over 400 new graduate vacancies have been advertised in the last 2 months) and suggest you register to receive updates on University internship opportunities.

At this stage in your careers, I would urge you to hold your nerve. The degrees you have obtained are world renowned and will contribute to you future achievements but you will need to be flexible. This is the key to success in the current economic climate and I would urge you to keep your CV’s and Personal Development Plans up-to-date, highlight your additional achievements such as the Leicester Award, and keep in touch with the Careers Service who are able to offer advice and guidance in person, on the telephone or through the website. Pick up a copy of the “Graduate Success Guide” which is available at this ceremony and remember that University careers services across the country are available to all students so you do not necessarily have to return to Leicester for advice, although we would be delighted to provide you with information and to see you! You may also wish to consider alternative routes such as a year abroad or postgraduate study, for which there are prospectuses in the foyer, or you may wish to apply for a University internship.

Another option is volunteering, an activity in which 1400 Leicester students are involved through our student volunteering organisation, CONTACT which offers training sessions, social events and works to give the maximum benefit to people in the local area. During the last year, its volunteers have been involved in nearly 500 different volunteering opportunities including:

• literacy programmes in schools;

• working in local hospitals; and

• recycling and conservation projects.

We are very proud of this splendid record. It is a real contribution to the Leicester community.

Here, our work never stops. We are creating plans for new research, new teaching programmes and new community links. It all demonstrates we are a dynamic 21st century university that provides high quality research, high quality teaching and a synergy between the two alongside meeting our widening participation benchmarks and providing an excellent student experience. All these features of our university lead to a positive institutional ethos.

It all goes to illustrate that universities have many different features. While some people appreciate the contribution that higher education makes to economic development, others appreciate its world-class research leading to major discoveries that change people’s lives. There is also its support for science, the arts and the students who are taught to think critically and constructively. I, however, would argue that universities do ALL these things and are vital to our society.

Higher education needs your support. At a time of economic crisis most countries are investing in higher education so I hope on the basis of your experience you will wish to persuade the government that higher education needs further investment. At the University of Leicester we start from a good position, with strong student demand, growing research activity, and sound finances. We see the benefits of progress made in the last few years. We are determined to rise to the challenge. We will take new opportunities, review our activities, and work in new ways where we need to, as I want you, the graduates, parents, friends and supporters of the University, to go on being proud of your connection with the University of Leicester. This will be our aim.

It is clear that the world in which the University operates has changed dramatically and our future will now depend more than ever on the continued support of alumni and friends. We hope you will want to stay in contact with the University and I shall look forward to meeting you at alumni events.

Finally, I would like to congratulate you on the degrees you have obtained, but before I close I would like to tell you about what has become known as ‘the Vice-Chancellor’s competition’, namely who can applaud loudest and longest. I would like you to join me in showing your appreciation to your parents, relatives, friends and sponsors who have supported you through University. So, I would now ask the graduating class of 2010 to join with me in a round of applause for those people.

(Applause) That’s terrific. Have an enjoyable day. On behalf of the whole University I wish you every success in your future lives and careers.

Click here to return to the main Graduation page.

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